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OPINION

The Flatlander

Pandemic Era Teaches Much About Life, Business

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From all indications, we are now slowly leaving the COVID era in a wake of experiences we never imagined. We’ve lost friends and loved ones, adapted in every way conceivable – education, healthcare, retail. In some ways, we are forever changed. In others, we just want our normal lives back.

As a community, what lessons have we collectively learned during this unforeseen era? Let’s consider a few, and what they mean.

•We are not an economic island unto ourselves.

We’ve seen the hard evidence now that every part of the world fits in a bigger world economy. Our own Stone County is not excluded.

Local auto dealerships that once had as many as 100 new cars on the lot are now lucky if they have a half dozen.

Semiconductor microchips that help command new vehicles for one thing or another are still in short supply from their overseas manufacturers and have turned the U.S. auto industry upside down. Some reports say it’s the worst time to buy a new vehicle in 40 years. Prices for both new and used vehicles are at their highest rates ever in an economy with a consumer price index that’s already 6 percent higher than last year.

•We may never understand some of the pandemic outcomes that affected us.
Suddenly, building materials from lumber to steel skyrocketed and were also in short supply. Local lumber companies got out of the business altogether, pre-assembled fixtures like windows were on backorder for six months and sheets of plywood that were once $20 now carried a $70 price tag.

If you asked lumber dealers what caused the spike, they had no insight for it, only that it was real, and that there was no end in sight.

The materials market effect spilled over into the local public interest causing a county jail project to exceed a projected budget by more than $3 million. It’s been two years since a tax referendum passed to build a new jail. We’ve not broken ground yet.

•Local retailers must remain nimble and can’t get too comfortable with a single market strategy.

From a business perspective, no one showed more adaptability than local pharmacies.

Managing scheduled appointments that amounted to several dozen a day, pharmacists met customers outside in their vehicles to give vaccinations. The business side of their work was turned upside-down. Some local retailers radically altered their inventories giving shelf space to items proven to sell and eliminating the risk. Had it not been for some new social media sales tactics, some retailers say they would have never made it through the pandemic. Local car dealers are still picking up long-distance customers at the airport and extending their deliveries.

•We must continue to expand our economy beyond tourism.

When crowds can’t gather, everything about a tourist town suffers and there’s a ripple effect across the community. It would be nice if Stone County’s tourism dollars were gravy and supported a core economy based on a more consistent return.

•Educating ourselves with facts has never been more important.

Reactions to managing the COVID pandemic were divided in extreme ways that resembled fighting between political parties. Many believed simply what they chose to believe and what they wanted to believe without a shred of factual support for their position.

Absent any checks or balances or trained professionals who understand the responsibility of distributing news, social media platforms contributed to the disinformation. There is an increasing laziness in our responsibility to know the facts these days. Many simply accept at face value what they read on the internet, or worse, tune out opposing views and expose themselves only to the ideas we believe. It’s the number one reason this crisis lasted so long.

•Balancing individual rights with the public interests will always generate a difference of opinion.

This doesn’t make one side or the other evil or the enemy, or even necessarily right or wrong. Mandated vaccines and masks and other curative and preventive measures divided families at the dinner table and destroyed friendships decades long. This is America and we are a 250-year-old idea based on freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. Believe as you will but remember that if we want to speak on a public platform, we have a moral responsibility to accuracy.

•We have a new awareness of how quickly things we’ve always taken for granted can get out of hand.

We witnessed entire church congregations get sick. Schools. Food service industry workers. We picked up some new habits along the way and learned it’s never a bad idea to wash your hands.

See you in next week’s newspaper.

(Steve Watkins is a writer/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com).

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